How to Maximize the Impact of Your Research
What is the most effective way scholars can disseminate their research? Should they publish it in a book, a journal article, or a conference paper? Should they turn to social media to supplement their publication choice, sharing their insights in a blog piece, a Facebook post or by tweeting? What should someone look for when evaluating publishers that will be the best partners for scholars seeking to maximize the impact of their research, and how do institutions frame scholarly output strategies? With so many choices, on what should academics really be focusing their time?
During the 2017 Annual Conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), in Lima, Perú, a panel of authors, editors, and academics shared with local and international scholars their tactics for maximizing research impact. The panel, How to Maximize the Impact of your Research in Latin American Studies, was co-sponsored by Cambridge University Press and the Latin American Research Review.
Paloma Díaz-Lobos, Scholarly Programs Director and Faculty Liaison for the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies of The University of Texas at Austin, and Social Social Media Coordinator for the Latin American Studies Association, began by sharing her experience as a coordinator of more than 15 social media accounts. Paloma reflected that there are many ways in which Twitter can be used: to promote one’s own research, to share the work of our students, to build new scholarly collaboration networks, or to further our own university’s research objectives.
She also offered advice for attendees on how to construct a professional profile. Some of Paloma’s tips were to always use your own name, and its identity should align with your professional goals. Always use hashtags for events when tweeting live, try to find mini-networks for your research interests and constantly share relevant research with those communities. Also, sharing reading lists, interacting with other authors, building surveys, using pictures and tweeting at least once a week are also useful tactics to consider.
Flavia Freidenberg, Full Time Researcher “B” at Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, started her time by highlighting the institution where academics work. Does your own university offer help with developing your academic career? Are there incentives (economic or otherwise) and is it within Latin American academia or within English speaking institutions? Does the research agenda focus on global or local issues? Does your institution ask you to engage in dialogue with the non-academic world? That, inevitably, will condition the way you pursue research impact.
Academics need to know what their country and institutions require for career advancement, and therefore one’s research and its impact should be aligned with those requirements. So how does Flavia measure here impact? By the amount of articles she publishes in national and international journals (a requirement for Mexican researchers), and by working on a “great length” book and engaging in public conversation and debate (requirements made by her university). She also strives to discuss her papers with other scholars, online and during conferences.
Debbie Gershenowitz, senior acquisitions editor for books at Cambridge University Press, spoke about how to pick the right vehicle for your research. Debbie stressed the importance of always thinking in terms of audience, and of publisher best suited to capture that audience. Debbie advised examining your own bookshelves, evaluating the list of books a certain editor has on her list, and to see if your research interests fit there. One of the most important things, she said, is having a distilled one-sentence elevator pitch that conveys the content of your book when you approach publishers. You can practice with friends and colleagues to fine-tune that pitch. “That will gauge my interest and lead me to ask more questions about your book so I can determine if it’s a good fit for my list,” she said. Taking care of the details when you submit proposals, i.e. following the submission instructions, is also a good way to get noticed by publishers. Additionally, Debbie recommended visiting each publisher’s booth at conferences and asking the editor if there is time on her schedule for a quick chat about your current book project.
Michelle McKinley, Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law at the University of Oregon Law School, and author of the award-winning Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600–1700 (Cambridge, 2016), discussed the importance of local connections and working with your institution to maximize the impact of your research. To publish her own book, she first started with a paper at a conference, and after conversation with local connections, she eventually worked the project into a book. Never underestimate the power of peer comments to refine a book, Michelle said. Getting into “sales” mode is also important, she said. “I come from a long lineage of sales people”.
“Is the pursuit of the promotion of one’s own research a worthwhile pursuit?”, asked Paulo Drinot, Senior Lecturer in Latin American History, at the Institute of the Americas at University College London, and co-editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies. We need to be wary of seeing our research as just another commodity to be marketed and sold. Researchers need to question the imperative to diversify their research and ‘ask who are we diversifying for’? The answer to this question may produce different strategies of diversification
On the other hand, Drinot argued, we do need to disseminate our research: “You want people to read your book, not necessarily because you want to sell a lot of copies, but rather because you are convinced people are wrong about the Earth being flat, and you want to show them it is, in fact, a sphere”. One strategy may be to publish a journal article that lets people know about a forthcoming book, but you have to be careful not to publish more than one or two articles on that topic, because publishers might not want to publish your book later.
Paulo summarized his time by defending the value of edited volumes and collaborative work. “Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it will be in dialogue with the research of others, and to make this dialogue explicit through an edited volume not only makes that dialogue available to readers, but it also highlights your particular contribution to that dialogue”.